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Philippians 2.12-30 NOTES

Phil. 2:12-30 - EXEGESIS

l. 2:12-18

I am explaining this theology to you now so that you will be Light and Life to the world around you. I will boast and we will rejoice together - are we not partners in Gospel work?

The teaching of how Christ exchanged His glory for the humility of a human being, how He obediently died on a cross, and further, about how He was "super-exalted," was all given as an example for us to follow. Focusing on that word "obedience," Paul urges the congregation to more consistent and deeper obedience.

2:12:  Therefore my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now all the more in my absence, with fear and trembling accomplish98 your own deliverance.99

This encouragement to ever more consistent obedience is rooted in the rich theological truths Paul has just written to them. He might have said, "Therefore, since what I have just written is true, don't just obey me, don't just follow this preacher when he is with you, but follow Christ in the great example He has given of putting the interests of others ahead of our own." While he wants to encourage their Gospel partnership, he also wants to discourage dependence upon him.

So, as the congregation imitates the humility of Christ, they can accomplish their own deliverance in the midst of the trouble and persecution they are experiencing. This is certainly not about eternal salvation.100 It is about some sort of deliverance that they can accomplish through the suffering brought on by those that oppose them. The specific kind of deliverance Paul is writing of is already clear from the other passages in which he has written of deliverance in this letter, that is, 1:19-20 concerning himself and 1:27-30 concerning them. As Gospel partners, Paul and the congregation need to be accomplishing a deliverance from dishonoring Christ, whether in life or in death.

The nature of this task can be seen more clearly from the context of this command. In 2:5 Paul called upon the congregation to "let this same attitude be in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus," then he wrote about the humble obedience of the Lord that led to the suffering of the cross, and then about the exaltation that Christ earned by His humble obedience. After all that, he gives them this command which begins with the word therefore. If because of His humble obedience, God delivered Him to exaltation, you also should be humbly obedient into suffering, and God working in you will deliver you from dishonoring Him and on into an exaltation.

This will only happen with fear and trembling. They need to fear101 God and shudder at the very idea of dishonoring God.

2:13:  For it is God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

In stark contrast to the fact that they will have to be obedient to produce their own deliverance from dishonoring God, Paul encourages them by reminding them that God is working in them so that they have the will and the strength to do His good pleasure.

2:14:  Do everything without grumbling or arguing,

Most of our grumbling and arguing happens when we put our own interests ahead of the interests of others. Whether concealed grumbling or unconcealed arguing, such disunity is forbidden.

2:15:  so that you might be blameless and pure,102 children of God unblemished in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the sky,103

They are children of God. If they will cease their grumbling and arguing, they will be blameless and pure children of God! Of course positionally they are already blameless and pure, but Paul would like to see their heavenly position work its way down to their earthly practice!

Paul wants them to be blameless, pure, and unblemished on the day when we will receive what is due us for what we have "done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The beautiful image of the congregation as stars shining in a black sky is reminiscent of Daniel 12:3 which reads, "But the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavenly expanse. And those who bring many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever."104 Some have suggested that this figure of speech refers to evangelistic activity, in that the stars are shining Gospel light upon a dark world. However, Paul speaks of the unblemished congregation (like stars) being in the midst of the crooked generation (like the night sky). The stars do not illumine the night sky. They do just the opposite, showing how dark it is. Just as stars stand in contrast to the dark sky, so the unblemished congregation is to be in stark contrast to the perverted generation. This is not particularly about evangelism, it is about being utterly different from the sinful society around us. Part of the difference we have with the world is the Gospel we proclaim, but that is not the emphasis of this image.

2:16:  being intent upon105 the word of life, which means106 a boast107 for me in the Day of Christ, that I neither ran in vain nor labored in vain.

The verb translated being intent upon has about eleven definitions listed for it in the Greek lexicon.108 Among them all, the two that might fit this context are "to hold out, present, offer"109 and "to direct one's mind to a thing, to attend, to be intent upon."110 Basically this phrase here either means "holding forth the Word" or "holding fast to the Word," so it is either about doing evangelism or being steadfastly faithful to the Word of God. Because the verb itself could easily have either meaning, the near and more distant contexts must be considered to decide which of these meanings is meant here.

The near context speaks of not grumbling, of being blameless, and of shining like stars in contrast to a dark night sky. That certainly fits well with the idea of being intent upon the word of life. If this phrase were to be translated "holding forth the word of life," it would be introducing a new concept. It is not likely that Paul would introduce a new concept with a verb that is so ambiguous.

The more distant context is the entire letter to the Philippians. In it there are many calls to serious discipleship entailing obedience, but in the whole letter 1:27 is the closest thing to an actual command that the congregation be preaching the Gospel, and it only says, "that you are standing firm in one spirit, struggling together as one for the faith of the Gospel," or perhaps, "that you are standing firm in one spirit, struggling together in Gospel faith."

So, given the context of the passage and the context of the entire letter, it seems best to translate this passage being intent upon the word of life.111

As Paul draws near the end of these exhortations to his Gospel partners, he reflects personally on the impact their obedience will have on him. Their obedience will be his boast in the Day of Christ. The success of this Gospel partnership will bring God-glorifying boasting in the Day of Christ.

If the Greek war heroes of Homer's Iliad were devoted to battle and contest to collect the war trophies with which they were honored by men and in which they boasted, the Jewish apostle Paul was devoted to serve in such a way that on that Day he would be honored by the one Man whose approval he sought, the One who had died and obtained perfect righteousness for Paul, for the Philippians, and for every believer in Christ.

So Paul was motivated by the anticipation of the Day of Christ. He clearly wants to have his boasts ready for that day. He writes a great deal about that Day in his letters. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 9:24-27; Colossians 2:18; 2 Timothy 2:3-6, 11-13; and also 4:8 are all about how motivated he is because of that expectation, or how he motivates others by reminding them of that coming Day when believers' actions will be assessed, not to demonstrate that they are really believers, but so that rewards for fruitful labor are properly allocated by the King.

In Philippians 1:6 he wrote, "the One who began among you a good work will bring it to completion all the way until the Day of Christ Jesus." Perhaps rewards for them and for him is the completion of the "good work" that Paul mentioned in 1:6.

There is also a hint of a negative side here. Paul implies that if they grumble and argue, if they are not blameless, pure, and unblemished when their works are evaluated in the Day of Christ, then sadly he will have run in vain and labored in vain. Paul feels that he would be bringing an empty boast to that Day, if all his running and laboring in Philippi only produced a grumbling and arguing congregation. As he wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:12-13, he hopes for himself and for the congregations that the "fire" of that Day will reveal "gold, silver," and "precious stones" rather than "wood, hay, or straw." What a joy that will be!

Paul was motivated in his life and ministry by the prospect of having his Lord and Savior rewarding him for his faithful ministry on that Day. However, that motivation would be one of several motivations which would all be secondary to the motivation of thankfulness for the grace of God which qualified him to even be present on that Day. Paul never said, "The Gospel has completed the joy that I have because you are living for the Lord." What he did write in 2:2 was "make my joy complete by being like-minded...." This would seem to indicate that joy in effective ministry should be secondary or supplemental to our joy in the Gospel.

Furthermore, serving to gain a reward from the Lord would be quite different from serving to gain salvation, or even to gain God's love. This can be illustrated easily enough if we think about a child and his parents. A child that grows up feeling that he must perform well to earn his parents' love grows up with a painful burden that may never be lifted. However, in a healthy family parents love their children simply because they are their children, not because they perform well. The children know this and they perform well, not to earn their parents' love, but because their parents love them. Their parents reward them in their successes, and discipline them when they do wrong, but always out of a heart full of love. That rewarded or disciplined child never doubts his or her place in the family, and the effects of reward or discipline are heightened by the love the child senses. He or she will say, "My daddy loves me and he was happy that I did that!" When disciplined, he or she may say, "My daddy loves me and he doesn't want me to do that anymore, so I won't ever do that again...."

Likewise in our relationship with our heavenly Father, if we feel that we must work harder to experience God's love, we place ourselves under a burden that can never be satisfied, because our hard work does not bring God's love. However, if we delight in God's love as expressed in the Gospel, if we rejoice in the Lord, then the power of His discipline and His reward is heightened by the love we enjoy.

2:17:  But if I am being poured out as a drink offering112 upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and I rejoice together with you all.113

As the Day of Christ and Paul's boasts on that Day come to his mind, he considers his own death. He uses a wonderful figure of speech to tell his readers how he views that prospect. He looks at himself as a drink offering which is poured out. The figure of speech is extended: this drink offering is being poured out upon the sacrifice and service of your faith. This might also be translated upon the sacrifice even114 the service of your faith. As he builds them up in their faith, that is, as he works towards drawing them to a more mature faith, his life is like a drink offering that infuses into a grain offering and disappears there. In this way he and they are living according to the model of Christ that is explained in 2:5-8.

This for Paul is a joy not a burden or a loss, and he wants to rejoice together with all of them. Here Paul restates what he wrote in 1:21, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."115

2:18:  Have that same joy, and rejoice together with me.116

His view of death is so different from the normal human way of viewing death. For Paul the idea of being utterly "poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service" of their faith is a cause for rejoicing, and he is calling his Gospel partners into that same joy. He wants his rejoicing to be mirrored with their rejoicing. He wants to draw them into this celebration of their partnership in the Gospel and the end times boasting it should entail.

ll. 2:19-24

Yes, it is true that I may soon die, so I think of my protégé, Timothy, who serves the Lord selflessly. I want to send him to you, to strengthen our partnership. He will assure me of how you all are doing. But right now, in my situation, I just cannot spare this man until I know how it will go with my imprisonment.

2:19:  I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I myself might be encouraged knowing your situation.

Paul has been writing quite a bit about himself, and he seem to realize that it has been too long since he heard an accurate assessment of how the Philippian congregation is doing. He writes as if he is sure the report will be encouraging, but we are left to wonder if he himself is just being optimistic, or whether he himself might have some doubt the report will be positive. At any rate, Timothy would be the right man to go and assess the situation.117

2:20:  For I have no one of like heart and mind,118 who will genuinely be concerned119 for your situation,

Timothy really stood out among the disciples who were on Paul's team. Perhaps there were others of similarly good heart and mind, but for whatever reason they were not available. Perhaps they had been sent out on other tasks.

2:21:  for they all120 seek after their own interests,121 not those of Christ Jesus.122

Paul, who spoke so positively of how the Gospel was advancing even though he was in chains, was not just putting a "positive spin" on everything so that the Philippians would not feel bad about him being under arrest again. He was no blind optimist. It must have deeply grieved him to write this verse. Although he knew that Timothy had a deep understanding of and commitment to "the things that really matter," Paul could not say that the other believers around him had that commitment. Although capable of being Paul's emissary to Philippi, we can almost imagine that one brother felt he really should stay in Rome to help with the family business, another could not leave because he was preoccupied with romance, another thought Philippi too distant from home, and yet another thought he could not live in the primitive environment of a colony. Another, though he was very diligent in getting the Gospel to his own people in Rome, was not interested in getting that same benefit to "those people off in the colony." They were all seeking after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. They did not have that understanding of "the things that really matter." May we all understand the things that really matter, and may these excuses never be heard in our congregations when we are challenged to follow Paul's footsteps as missionaries.

2:22:  Now you know his proven character,123 how as a child with his father he has served124 with me in the Gospel.

Timothy is brought on to Paul's missionary team in Acts 16 during Paul's second journey, and he is mentioned by name in every subsequent chapter of Acts except the very last chapter, in all six times. Paul also mentions Timothy by name eighteen times in his own letters, including the two that he wrote directly to Timothy.

As he opened this letter, Paul wrote of himself and Timothy as "slaves of Jesus Christ." Going into more detail here, he tells us they have something like a father-son relationship.125 The Philippian congregation already knew Timothy and his relationship with Paul from the times they had been together in Philippi, but Paul reminds them, perhaps so that they will be even more open to his ministry, despite his lesser status and younger age.

2:23:  So on the one hand he is the one I hope to send as soon as I see how my situation turns out.126

As Paul summarizes his plans about sending Timothy, the delicate issue of his situation in chains has to come up. As he writes, he cannot imagine being without the help of his protégé, and despite the assurances he has already given and gives in the next verse, it is hard to be absolutely sure about what the authorities will do with his case.

2:24: On the other hand, I am convinced in the Lord that even I myself will come quickly.

Though not complete, this is the same assurance Paul expressed in 1:19, 24, and 25.127

III.  2:25-30

But I have to send back to you Epaphroditus, your missionary to me. Although I appreciate his willingness to serve, even to die, he is just too worried about you all. Honor him.

In striking contrast, Paul now tells them of one of their own number whom he is sending back to them because he is hard to have around.

2:25:  Now I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier - your missionary128 and minister129 of my need,

For reasons that he will make clear, Paul has deemed it necessary to send back to them one whom they had sent to serve Paul's needs. This man is only mentioned in Philippians (in this verse and in 4:18), so we do not know for certain that the Philippian congregation sent him to take care of Paul because Paul was under house arrest, but that would have been a reasonable thing for them to do. He probably had not been with Paul for too long, because his coming and the gifts he brought seem to be what Paul was referring to in 4:10 when he wrote, "Now I rejoice greatly in the Lord that now at last you have renewed your concern for me."

Paul certainly does not speak ill of Epaphroditus. He refers to him as his brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier. He is also called minister of my need. It is possible that the congregation found a suitable young man and sent him simply to see to it that Paul was well fed while he was under house arrest. There is no evidence to support the idea that Epaphroditus was an elder or pastor in Philippi, and the man's unacceptable worrying seems to indicate something of a lack of spiritual depth.

2:26:  because he is longing for you all and troubled, because you heard that he was ill.

Here Paul gives the problem, but only in the next two verses do we learn why his past illness, his longing, and his being troubled are the reasons Paul actually has to send him back to his sending church.

2:27:  For indeed he was ill, he was130 near death. However, God had mercy on him - not only on him but also on me, so that I might not have grief upon grief.

Paul confirms what they had already heard, their missionary was ill, in fact he was near death. Then he immediately relieves their concern by telling them that God had mercy on him.

He does not say what grief he is already experiencing. Perhaps he is indirectly reminding them that it is already hard enough to be under house arrest and facing a capital trial in Rome. However, since in the very next verse he says he will be "more free of grief" when Epaphroditus is gone, it may be that the grief he has was brought on by Epaphroditus's worry. In other words, he has enough grief with Epaphroditus's worry, but the Lord spared him the further grief he would have endured had Epaphroditus died.

2:28:  Therefore with more earnestness131 I send him, so that seeing him again you might be glad, and I might be more free of grief.132

Epaphroditus worried that the church at Philippi was continually worrying about him. Epaphroditus' worrying was excessive and inappropriate for that situation, and Paul wanted to quickly return him to his sending church. Paul saw that Epaphroditus just would not entrust the Philippian congregation to the Lord's care. That servant was fretting too much about their worries over him, so Paul graciously but firmly sent him home. If, as some suppose, the reason Paul sent him back was simply so that they could see that he was no longer ill, Paul could have simply told them that Epaphroditus had recovered, and they would have believed him. No, Paul sent him back so that he might be more free of the grief or pain of mind Paul experienced having Epaphroditus around.

2:29:  Therefore receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold such as him in honor,

Although Epaphroditus was too troubled for Paul to have on his team, he is nevertheless very clear that Epaphroditus should be honored by the congregation, and he expects them to welcome him joyfully.

There are honorable men that are just not qualified for high stress cross-cultural Gospel work, and Paul was not afraid to say so.

2:30:  because on account of the work of Christ he came near to death, having no concern for his own life133 so that he might fulfill what was lacking in your service to me.

Paul speaks highly of this man, never questioning his devotion or willingness to suffer. The man just had a serious problem with worry, so serious a problem that it brought too much trouble on Paul and he had to send him home.

Nevertheless, the Philippians - of all people - should give their missionary a warm and honorable welcome. After all, he was just fulfilling what was lacking in their service to Paul. The details behind this reminder to the congregation are now enigmatic. Philippians 4:15-16 indicates that the Philippian congregation had been financially generous to Paul in the past, so it does not seem likely that what was lacking in your service to me refers to lack of financial support. Since the same word for lacking134 was used in 1 Corinthians 16:17 concerning the "lack" that was made up for by the arrival of three men from Corinth,135 it seems like the "lack" that Paul refers to here was the lack of their ability to care for him while under house arrest.

There is an interesting comparison between these men on Paul's team. Paul simply could not spare Timothy, but he quickly sent back worrying Epaphroditus, with an honorable discharge. To think in modern terms, one wonders what Paul might have put in these two men's personnel files.



Phil. 2:12-30 - BibleRef Commentary

Context Summary:  Philippians 2:12-18 explains how Christians ought to live, considering all that Christ was willing to do for them. The command to ''work out'' salvation is a directive to let the new birth in Christ translate into actions. As a part of this, believers should serve God without griping or complaining. Paul knows that his service to God has been hard, but this is simply another form of offering. All Christians are invited to serve in the same selfless way.  Philippians 2:19-30 are Paul's instructions to the Philippian church regarding two particular men: Timothy and Epaphroditus. Timothy was a trusted friend of Paul's, who would likely be visiting the church at Philippi soon. Epaphroditus apparently had friends and contacts in this church, and had brought support from Philippi to Paul. After recovering from a near-fatal disease, Epaphroditus is the one delivering this letter from Paul and Timothy.

v. 12: This verse transitions from Paul's focus on Christ's humility in to the need for Christians to live out their faith for the world to see. He notes his transition by the use of "therefore," referring to his readers as "my beloved" or loved ones. Paul will also use this reference to the Philippian Christians in Philippians 4:1. In both contexts, his focus is to emphasize his love for his readers while also giving them a command to obey.

Paul notes the Philippians have faithfully followed his teachings whether he was with them, or not. Following a teacher's instruction when they are not present is the ultimate test of loyalty, and the Philippian Christians have done exactly that. During their years apart, Paul kept in contact with this group of believers. Chapter 4 discusses several times they had sent him financial contributions to assist him in his ministry.

Paul also gives a command using a strange and often misunderstood phrase: "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." This unique remark speaks of ongoing obedience for those already saved. It's crucial to note that Paul is not telling them to work for their salvation. This statement implies a need to live out-to practice, demonstrate, and exhibit-the salvation which believers have in Christ.  The concept of "fear and trembling" addresses worshipful respect for God. This echoes back to the context of every knee bowing before the Lord mentioned in verse 11.

v. 13: In verse 12, Paul commands the Philippian Christians to "work out [their] own salvation," meaning they are to put the truth of their belief into practice. What they are in Christ needs to be "worked out" through their actions and attitudes. The reason for this command is given here in verse 13: God is acting through the lives of these believers. This understanding should lead believers to a deep sense of awe and appreciation.

Paul then adds two areas in which God operates in the life of the believer. First, God works in us to "will" His good pleasure. This includes the idea of placing desires or leading a believer to serve the Lord.

Second, God works in us "to work" for His good pleasure. God's Spirit in the believer gives both the desire and the strength to live for the Lord. "Work" appears as a common theme in this letter (Philippians 1:6; 2:12, 25, 30; 4:3). The idea of "his good pleasure" involves obedience (Phil. 2:12) according to God's Spirit. This is not the legalistic obedience of the law that Paul speaks against in the false teachings of the circumcision group, but rather obedience based on a love for God based on the Spirit living within the believer.

v. 14: This verse is short, but clear, and difficult to misunderstand. The command word "do" is the first Greek word in the statement, adding emphasis to the mandate. The direction is given without exceptions, aiming the intent at everything a believer does. The immediate context is work within the local church, and the body of believers. However, the intent is clearly meant to include all of a Christian's life.

The idea of "without grumbling" is from a Greek term, gongysmōn, dealing with murmuring or complaining. Those who live to please God should refrain from complaining about serving Christ. We serve in "fear and trembling" not "grumbling or disputing."

The idea of "disputing" includes arguments and quarrels. Those who serve the Lord should not be known for arguing, but for humble service. A biblical example of the results of complaining can be found in Numbers 13-14. The Israelites complained repeatedly in the wilderness despite God's generous provisions. The result was judgment rather than reward for obedience.

v. 15: Living without grumbling or disputing (Philippians 2:14) makes a person "blameless and innocent." Being blameless is a goal both of believers in general and especially of church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2). Spiritually speaking, this is not a reference to sin or morality, but whether or not a person can be rightfully criticized by other people.

The goal of not grumbling or disputing is not to boast, but rather to live in a way explicitly different from the depraved world we find ourselves in. All true believers are children of God (John 1:12-14). However, to live without blemish as God's children requires diligent effort. Part of the reason this is difficult is because of the sin inherent to the world around us. Believers are to be in the world, not of it, leading to difficult situations, and temptation. Yet believers are called to stand out as unique and powerful examples: "lights in the world." Paul's words closely resemble Jesus who taught, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

v. 16: An obedient believer is a person who holds fast to the gospel and the truths of God. When Paul wrote these words, the New Testament had not yet been completed or compiled. This is not an explicit reference to written Scripture, per se. Paul's reference to the "word of life" appears to point to Jesus, referred to as the word of life in 1 John 1:1.

Paul then adds that, when Christ returns, he wants to be proud. Paul wants to know that his efforts in Philippi were for a good cause, not a waste of time. This church was a bright spot in his ministry; he does not want them to fall to the sins of the world and destroy the good work he had invested in them. This concern is not about personal pride, but rather about investing his life into people who were productive in serving the Lord. Paul was already under much difficulty as a prisoner in Rome. He desired to take joy in the lives of those in the Philippian church rather than find discouragement that they might turn in disobedience toward Christ (Philippians 2:15).

v. 17: Paul describes his joy at being able to serve, though he does refer to his life as a "drink offering." This refers to the Old Testament practice of pouring a drink offering in worship (Numbers 15:1-10; 28:1-8). After a priest would sacrifice a lamb, ram, or bull, he would pour wine beside the altar. This symbolized the dedication of a person in worship to God.

In Paul's life, he felt his life was being poured out as an act of worship on behalf of those he served. Even if his imprisonment ended in death, he could have joy regarding his life that had been poured out in service to God. At the end of his life, Paul would make a similar statement: "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come" (2 Timothy 4:6). The drink offering and death, or end of service, was closely associated.

v. 18: This verse extends Paul's joy in being used to serve others as an invitation to his readers. Just as Paul was glad and rejoiced, he wanted his readers to be glad as well. Verses 14-17 deal with some difficult, negative aspects of life Paul needed to address. Because his focus in this letter is positive, he quickly transitioned back to a positive tone of joy. Joy has been mentioned multiple times to this point in Paul's letter (Phil. 1:4, 18, 25; 2:2).

The next verse begins a section designed to bring joy to Paul's readers. The chapter also ends with a focus on joy (Philippians 2:29) and begins the next chapter with rejoicing (Philippians 3:1). Chapter 4 likewise emphasizes joy (Philippians 4:1), includes more emphasis on rejoicing (Philippians 4:4, 10) and ends with many positive greetings (Philippians 4:21-23). Joy was clearly an emphasis of his letter to the Philippians.

 v. 19: The third section of this chapter begins with a transition to Paul's associate Timothy. Timothy was with Paul at this time, assisting with the writing of this very letter (Philippians 1:1). Paul planned to send him to Philippi in the near future. However, this was not intended as a one-way trip. Paul's expectation to receive good news as a result of this visit meant he intended Timothy to then return with news of their situation.

The timing of Timothy's trip would be dependent upon Paul's trial in Rome (Philippians 2:23). This note helps in the dating of this letter. Since Paul was in Rome two full years (Acts 28:30) and was brought to Rome about AD 60, then this letter was written approximately AD 62. This note also reveals something of Paul's timeline of ministry. He had an anticipated trial in 62 and later wrote 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, with details of later ministry and a second Roman imprisonment. Whether Paul traveled to Philippi as he had hoped (Philippians 2:24) is uncertain, though certainly could have taken place.

v. 20: This highlights the godly character of Timothy mentioned in verse 19. Paul considered Timothy unique. Part of this uniqueness was found in his sincere concern for the Philippian Christians. This stands in contrast with Philippians 2:21 that notes, "For they all seek their own interests," referring perhaps to people in general. It may also be a reference to the people who preached Christ out of selfish motivations, which Paul had mentioned in Philippians 1:15-18.

Timothy was one of Paul's closest associates. In addition to his service with Paul in Rome, he collaborated with him on many of his letters, traveled with him on missionary journeys, and led the church at Ephesus during Paul's later years (1 and 2 Timothy). In 1 Corinthians 4:17 Paul called him "my beloved and faithful child in the Lord." Hebrews 13:23 also notes that Timothy will be arrested at least once for his faith, likely during Nero's persecution of Christians between AD 64 and 68.

v. 21: In contrast with Timothy's attitude, Paul notes the general nature of people as selfish. The idea of "interests" refers to their own desires or preferences. Few people truly choose the way of Jesus (Philippians 2:6-11) and live with humility toward others, even among believers in Jesus. In fact, Paul notes Timothy as unique among those with him, indicating that even many Christians live lives focused on personal interests. This echoes some of the sentiment Paul expressed in Philippians 1:15-18.

This verse also connects the interests of Jesus Christ with a concern for the Philippian believers, mentioned in verse 20. In this way, Paul reminds the reader that Jesus is very concerned about the situation of the Philippian believers. They were of great importance to the Lord and to Paul. Just as God the Father sent the one closest to Him by sending Jesus the Son, so too Paul sent the one closest to him, Timothy, one he refers to as a son (Philippians 2:22).

v. 22: The Philippians already knew about Timothy and his reputation. Some translations specify his name here, for clarity, though the original Greek literally says "his." Timothy's relationship with Paul was compared to a son with a father. Timothy was both a coworker and spiritual family member with Paul. Given the type of assignments Paul gives Timothy in the Bible, his level of trust must have been extremely high. It would not be a stretch to refer to Timothy as Paul's "right hand man."

Interestingly, Paul compares the father-son dynamic to Timothy's service with him in the gospel. In other words, here the description is of Timothy's service with Paul rather than his relationship. This connection would have made much greater impact during the time Paul wrote. Then, most sons served in the same vocation as their father from a young age. Timothy and Paul had worked together like father and son for some time. They were close relationally as well as in their common work to share the good news with others. 

v. 23: Timothy was still with Paul when Philippians was written, but Paul hoped to send him to Philippi soon. He seems to be waiting for more information on his current legal situation. Paul had spent two years under house arrest (Acts 28:30). This shows the letter was written approximately AD 62, giving one of the most accurate dates of any of Paul's letters. Paul probably wanted to wait to send Timothy until he had confirmation about his impending release.

Timothy would later serve as leader of the church in Ephesus (1 and 2 Timothy). During Paul's second imprisonment, sometime between AD 64 and 68, Paul wrote 2 Timothy to urge Timothy to visit him before winter (perhaps written in the fall of 65 to 67). Timothy would outlive his mentor, serving as a church leader until his own death, traditionally dated around AD 97, martyred for attempting to stop a procession honoring the goddess Diana.

v. 24: Paul hoped to also visit the Philippian church soon. His plan was three-fold. First, he sent this letter with Epaphroditus, named in verse 25. Second, he would send Timothy to visit and return to him in Rome (Philippians 2:19, 23). Third, Paul would personally visit the Philippian believers, or at least he wanted to.

As it turns out, we cannot be certain whether or not this visit actually took place. Paul's later ministry work is recorded only in the letters of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. These letters note his visits to areas near Philippi, but not in the city itself. He may have visited as planned, given that he was in the area, but this is not certain. Paul also intended to visit Philemon (Philemon 1:22) as well as Spain (Romans 15), though neither event is specifically recorded in the New Testament. Various extra-biblical writings associate Paul with all of these locations in his later years. We know Paul visited Ephesus, leaving Timothy there; Macedonia (1 Timothy 1:3); Crete (Titus); Nicopolis (Titus 3:12); Troas (2 Timothy 4:13); and was likely arrested in Troas and taken to Rome, where he was held until his death.

v. 25: The letter to the Philippians was delivered by the hands of Epaphroditus. This man is given five titles in this brief verse. First, Paul calls him "my brother," indicating he was a fellow believer in Christ. Second, Paul calls him my "fellow worker," a title emphasizing his diligent efforts to serve Christ in ministry with Paul.  Third, Paul called him his "fellow soldier." Paul sometimes used the word picture of a soldier to emphasize a person's faithful, dedicated service to Christ. The territory Paul ministered to was mostly controlled by the Roman Empire, which made an effort to show off their military might. Soldiers would have been a common sight, and therefore a useful analogy.  Fourth, Paul calls him "your messenger," likely referring to his role of bringing this letter and perhaps verbal information to the Philippian believers. He had also come to Paul, from Philippi, at some point in the past.  Fifth, Paul refers to him as a "minister to my need." Epaphroditus had served Paul on many occasions, especially during his critical time under Roman house arrest. He also brought financial gifts to Paul from the Philippians during this time, as mentioned in Philippians 4:18. He may well have been a leader at the Philippian church. We have little other information about the man, as he is mentioned only in this letter to the Philippians.

v. 26: This verse provides three unique pieces of information about Epaphroditus. First, he missed his friends in Philippi. It is uncertain whether he was personally from Philippi or not. This kind of remark makes it seem more likely that he was a church leader and local resident of this area. This would certainly explain why he missed home, as well as friends and family.

Second, he was concerned. He was apparently bothered by the fact that his friends knew he was sick, but had not yet heard he was now well.

This concern is due to the third piece of information, which is that Epaphroditus had been extremely ill. The exact sickness is not given, but was clearly serious and nearly fatal. This verse also clearly proves that those who faithfully serve Christ are not immune to troubles. Nor are they guaranteed miraculous healing, even by someone as spiritually powerful as Paul. God has a plan even for such difficulties, though we often are not told why. While God heals in some situations, He also allows sicknesses at other times. The world we live in is still one of cause and effect.

v. 27: Epaphroditus had been sick to the point of death. Yet Paul stated that God's "mercy" had come in the form of healing. This mercy was not merely for the sick man, but for Paul as well. As his friend, and the recipient of Epaphroditus's help, Paul saw this recovery as a personal mercy from God. Paul was so close to Epaphroditus that he would have grieved deeply at losing this dear friend.

Interestingly, mercy is often associated with healing in the New Testament. In Matthew 15:22, a woman asked for mercy from Jesus for her demon-possessed daughter. In Matthew 17:15, mercy was asked for a son who was an epileptic. Two blind men called to Jesus for mercy in Matthew 20:30 (also Mark 10:47). Mercy is both a blessing from God and often connected with relief from sickness. Mercy is given for us to tell others how God has changed us (Mark 5:19). Even the Good Samaritan was focused on helping people see the need to show mercy to those in need (Luke 10:37).

v. 28: In this verse Paul gave two other reasons for sending Epaphroditus to the Philippian believers. In addition to his work as a letter carrier, there was an element of reunion. His goal was to bring joy to his readers when Epaphroditus arrived. Why? First, he was their friend. They missed him and would be glad upon his return. Second, they had heard he was sick and would be excited to see him healthy again.

The other reason Paul sent him was personal to Paul himself. Paul seems to have been worried by the fact that Epaphroditus had been near death, and was then healed, yet his friends had not heard about this improvement. They were likely still praying and hoping for his physical situation to improve, but had received no news about his status. Receiving this update from Epaphroditus himself would be a welcome blessing, and greatly ease Paul's mind.  

v. 29: Because of who Epaphroditus was, his service, and what he had been through, Paul commanded the Philippian believers to celebrate his return, thanking the Lord for his life and healing.

In addition, Paul extended this command to others like Epaphroditus. All who serve God with humility and sacrifice should be honored by their fellow Christian brothers and sisters. The reasons will be given in greater detail in the next verse, in particular noting that he had risked his life for Christ.

Those who serve Christ by leaving home and risking their lives are to receive honor from the church. This principle can extend today to missionaries and perhaps others. For instance, Christian military personnel and Christian leaders who serve far from home to help those in need. As in this case, the work does not always require the person to be an evangelist or teacher. Epaphroditus left to personally care for Paul, to deliver money and perhaps other supplies, and to bring encouragement. Such workers are of tremendous importance to those serving on the front lines of ministry.

v. 30: Epaphroditus was fully committed to Christ. Many claim to serve Christ, yet few can claim they have nearly died in order to serve the Lord. Epaphroditus was to be honored for his tremendous level of commitment.

Epaphroditus was also to be honored because he risked his life to serve in ways others could not. The entire church could not leave one country in order to visit Paul in another. However, a single person could; Epaphroditus was that individual. He was to be honored for rising to the challenge to lead and to serve in this unique way. Martyrs have long been honored for their sacrifice and rightfully so. However, this verse adds that those who have risked their lives to serve Christ should also be recognized for their efforts. Not all members of a congregation can participate in all forms of service, and those who take on the more difficult assignments should be given respect by those who stay behind.